By Neil Paterson
Recently, my town of Moscow, Idaho made national headlines due to a large demonstration by religious groups. 1 2 3 In particular, many members of the “Christ Church” congregation in town organized a “worship gathering” outside of city hall where five were cited. Three were arrested for not wearing masks while singing hymns, worshiping, and praying. 4 Other Moscow community members took part, and the group grew to about 150 people. Moscow currently has a Public Health Emergency proclamation in effect to require masks for indoor/outdoor gatherings. 5 This demonstration intended to push back against the continued lockdown and to claim that the restrictions were being unfairly enforced on religious groups. This is understandable and hardly unique to this part of the country. However, it is the medium of religion that raises my concern; this was not a “religious” activity. It was wholly political with a religious veil.
First, I want to make it clear that I completely understand the sentiment. People are clearly tired of the various restrictions and would like to return to a normal state. It also appears that restrictions across the country affect religious groups congregating for a service more than some of the political protests; people attribute this to biased enforcement and discrimination against churches. While this could be happening, it is difficult to say definitively as it varies greatly on a case-by-case basis (even across churches in the same town). Churches in Moscow have been holding in-person and online services for months now. Cases in Moscow have been fairly low, even considering the commencement of the fall semester. Students and others returned, leading to a slight spike in the number of confirmed cases. This is initially troubling; however, the Idaho Public Health district is still designating Latah County as Minimal Risk due to the numbers still being well below a significant level of concern, at least for now. 6 The restrictions in place are meant to mitigate the spread, but it is clear that people are not as worried anymore. Idaho has been a fairly inactive state in the pandemic as far as the numbers are concerned, but I think the State, as well as the localities, are obligated to implement mitigation strategies. That being the case, I have been working from my small apartment since March and can understand why some would want to organize a demonstration regarding the city’s decision to continue the restrictions. I don’t, however, agree with this particular event.
As a Christian, I winced when I saw the headlines. Not because other Christians were being arrested, but because other Christians put on a sorely misguided display of what Christians believe, or, more importantly, how Christians behave. Again, the event was meant to defy the city of Moscow’s restrictions; they chose, and rather poorly, to use a shell of “Christianity” as their vehicle. This was not at all consistent with scripture, and I would like to be clear what not just the Gospel, but Christ himself said regarding your display of supposed righteousness.
The highest and final authority in Christianity is Christ (this should not be news to anyone, especially those that claim they are Christian).
Here’s what he has to say in regards to prayer:
Matthew 6: 1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
This is the final authority. This takes precedent over anything else included in the Bible that discusses the topics included in this passage. The gist here, and my main point against this particular protest and others like it, is that prayer and worship is not meant to be public, nor is charity. Those who do so publicly are labeled here as hypocrites. That should be damning enough, but there are other points that need to be clarified.
This next point gets a little dicey, and I want to be sure to note that I am not making the case that protests are not biblically supported or against Christ, but Christians should be careful about how they demonstrate their faith and when it’s appropriate to pair that with a more politically-oriented argument or event.
Submission or obedience to authority is another tenet that is discussed throughout the Bible. The next references are of the New Testament, meaning they are after Christ’s ministry and crucifixion and meant to be consistent with his many teachings. For example, the classic “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” lesson of Mark 12:17; this was a test of Christ as to whether or not it was lawful and consistent with God to pay taxes to the Romans.
Christ confirmed it is lawful and good to do so. Other references to this idea of obeying the law are the following:
Romans 13: “1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (The entire chapter is dedicated to this topic. However, note that the context of this book is more tailored for the church in Rome at the time, but the message is intended to be generalized to the broad scope of Christianity as a whole.)
Titus 3: “1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”
1 Peter 2: “13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, 2 whether it be to the emperor3 as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants4 of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
To conclude, the Bible contains many lessons and guidelines for faithful conduct, and I am not sure that this City Hall protest in Moscow, Idaho was any evidence of conduct truly consistent with Christianity. I would not call such demonstrations necessarily “Christian” or “Religious”. They have every right in this great country to do what they did and protest the city; however, I think providing clarification about the supposed religious nature of such an event is extremely important. There is plenty of additional context surrounding the passages referenced in this article, but the core message should be clear: when you, as Christians, are praying, worshiping, and singing hymns for the purpose of publicity, you are not doing so in service to the Christian God, you are doing so only in service to your political beliefs.
Neil Paterson is a Contributing Writer for Young Americans Against Socialism. Neil works in Human Research Protection and has backgrounds in Psychology, Music, and Research Compliance.